- Cool LED headlights
- 120-mile range is limiting
For the e-Golf, Volkswagen has binned its usual petrol or diesel engines in favour of a big box of batteries and an electric motor. Lem Bingley discovers if it’s a dubious lash up or the new benchmark in green motoring in this road test review.
The seventh generation Golf arrived more than 18 months ago and its angular lines have become a familiar sight ever since. With a square-jawed front bumper, the newly hatched e-Golf vaguely resembles a GTI – albeit with a blue stripe rather than red stripe across its nose.
Bright, C-shaped daylight lamps, which sit below a full set of LED headlights, catch the eye at the front. LED headlights are only available on the e-Golf, yielding more light for less power. The smoked rear clusters are also LED, while there’s a wrap-around tailgate spoiler, big e-Golf badge and a distinct lack of exhaust pipe at the back.
Flat, aerodynamic 16-inch alloys are shod with bulging 55-profile eco tyres. The relatively thick wodge of rubber spoils what might otherwise be a very planted and purposeful look.
The e-Golf feels much like any other mid-level, five-door Golf on the inside. The seventh-generation car was designed with electric drive in mind, so the conversion to battery power has been very neatly done.
Look closely at the floor, however, and you might notice odd bulges under the carpet. The e-Golf’s big lithium-ion battery has been stowed in an unusual double-T shape, running down the spine of the car and branching out under both the front and rear seating.
The rear bench is split 60:40 and there’s a hatch for carrying long and thin items. About 40 litres of boot volume has been lost to electrification, yielding 343 litres for luggage above a raised floor that has lost the option of a spare wheel. The e-Golf must rely on a can of gunk to get home in the event of a puncture.
A Nissan Leaf offers a marginally bigger boot at 370 litres, while the rear-mounted motor of a BMW i3 means a tiddly 260 litres and an awkwardly high load lip.
Performance & handling
The e-Golf is propelled by an 85kW (114bhp) electric motor capable of generating up to 270Nm of torque in an instant. It feels exceedingly quick off the mark, punching away from a standstill while most other cars are still revving up. That it scorches away in utter silence seems all the more uncanny.
Torque falls away as the speed builds, however, meaning the e-Golf takes an unremarkable 10.4 seconds to reach 62mph – about the same as an eco-biased Golf BlueMotion. The e-Golf is more than a second quicker than a Leaf. An i3 can zip to 62mph in just 7.2 seconds.
Top speed is capped at 87mph. As energy consumption increases exponentially with speed, excessive pace will sap the battery’s range at an alarming rate. Keeping under the motorway speed limit will, therefore, be a necessity and not just a legality.
Tall tyres and stiff suspension produce some unusual sensations over rutted roads, with the car smothering small bumps but blundering over bigger ones. Cornering is admirably flat, helped by the 315kg battery sitting at axle height, while the eco tyres provide surprisingly tenacious grip – on the dry roads of our road test, at least.
Economy & environment
The e-Golf – like other electric cars – produces zero emissions locally and has a CO2 rating of a 0g/km as a result. This makes it exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty and the London congestion charge.
Officially, the e-Golf will travel 118 miles per charge, while our car predicted 120 miles when first switched on. In practice, range will vary dramatically according to driving style and the weather, with both heating and air conditioning sapping battery charge.
The e-Golf provides three driving modes to help eke out its 24.2kWh. It wakes up in Normal mode, providing full power and a peppy feel to the throttle. Switch to Eco mode for a softer pedal and lazy climate control, 71mph speed cap and about a fifth less power and torque.
Eco+ switches off the aircon, cuts peak power and torque by about a third, and puts the accelerator into an induced coma. It also caps speed quite firmly at 56mph, which can be unnerving if you’re not expecting it. Floor it and the e-Golf will push through the limit – eventually – but it’s better to be in Normal mode if you need to overtake.
There are also four different levels of regenerative braking that can be accessed via the gearstick, all of which help recapture energy when slowing down. The default setting is a gliding motion that preserves momentum – very different to BMW’s approach of regenerative braking strong enough to hurl you at the screen whenever you step off the throttle in an i3.
Recharging the e-Golf’s battery takes up to 13 hours from a three-pin plug. A 3.6kW wall box can refill it in about eight hours. A DC fast-charger will manage an 80% top up in half an hour.
An iOS or Android app allows remote supervision over charging as well as the preheating or cooling the cabin so you can step into the e-Golf safe in the knowledge it’s fully charged and warm or cold enough for your liking.
Equipment & value
The e-Golf costs from £25,845 after a £5,000 contribution from the government’s Plug-in Car Grant, claimed by VW on the buyer’s behalf. A vaguely comparable Nissan Leaf, in mid-range Acenta trim, costs from £23,490 while an entry-level BMW i3 starts at £25,680. In other words, the e-Golf is hardly a bargain.
The e-Golf is sold in only one trim level and is based on the middling Match specification that sits between the SE and GT editions in the Golf range.
The electric car gains an eight-inch central touchscreen with navigation by default, an upgrade from the 5.8-inch screen fitted as standard across the rest of the Golf range. The larger display lets you summon various unique screens including a map overlaid with reachable destinations – either in a single direction or round trip – based on currently available charge.
Electric windscreen defrosting comes as standard to help reduce the need for cabin heat. A £295 upgrade replaces the spider-web of wires in the screen with a transparent conductive layer set in glass that also wards off summer heat. Surprisingly for an EV, heated seats are not standard – they cost £380 as part of a winter pack, or come along with a £2,095 upgrade to leather upholstery and sports seating.
A heat-pump is another option that probably ought to be standard in an electric car. It costs £825 and is much more energy efficient than the standard heater, extending the car’s range by up to 20 per cent in cold weather. Certainly preferable to wearing a woolly hat, coat, scarf and mittens in the car.
Golf version 7 achieved a solid five-star result when tested by EuroNCAP in 2012. The e-Golf, which is about 20 per cent heavier than a diesel-powered Golf, hasn’t yet been given its own specific crash-test rating.
Various electronic safety systems are fitted as standard, including radar-based City Emergency Braking, which will jump hard on the brakes if you fail to react when a collision is imminent at up to 18mph. Another system monitors your driving and will squawk if it thinks you’re nodding off. Admittedly this is less of a danger in a car that forces you to stop for at least 30 minutes to recharge.
Volkswagen’s Golf is the benchmark among mid-sized hatchbacks, the car against which both cheaper and more upmarket competitors are measured. While the e-Golf seems very well put together, it may struggle to become the default choice. It looks timid in comparison to BMW’s outlandish i3 and expensive and ill-equipped next to Nissan’s pioneering Leaf.
If you’ve been waiting for an electric car that offers discreet good looks and a tasteful cabin, the e-Golf does provide a very attractive new option.